ad info

Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  





Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's is a goner


4:30pm ET, 4/16









CNN Websites
Networks image

Burden of Proof

Examining The Vehicular Manslaughter Case Of The Son of A Hollywood Director

Aired February 27, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: a deadly scene on the streets near a Santa Barbara college. A Hollywood director's son has been charged with murder and driving under the influence, for allegedly killing four pedestrians.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard somebody's gun raise accelerator, and I just looked over my shoulder. I just heard boom, boom, boom as it hit the car. And I looked, and all I basically saw a cloud of smoke.

JASON SCHOCK, STUDENT NEWSPAPER PHOTOGRAPHER: You know, I've never covered anything like this. It's like -- you know, it's one of the most shocking things I've ever had to cover. Like, I was trembling when I was -- first started taking photos.

MIKE MUELL, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: So he swiped a total of nine vehicles parked directly, in front of -- one in front of the other. As he did this, he also struck five pedestrians along the way that happened to be walking alongside of those parked vehicles.


ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Greta is off today.

An 18-year-old college student is expected to be arraigned in a Santa Barbara courtroom soon. David Attias, the son of television director Daniel Attias, has been charged with four counts of murder, four counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and five counts of driving while under the influence of drugs, and causing great harm.

Over the weekend, Attias allegedly drove his car onto a busy campus street, careening off cars and running over and killing pedestrians.

A bystander videotaped these scenes in the aftermath of the crash, which claimed the lives of four people. A fifth victim is in critical condition. Joining us from Santa Barbara is Captain Bob Clements with the California Highway Patrol. From Los Angeles, Former California State Prosecutor Al Stokke. Also in Los Angeles, Chief Ventura County Public Defender Kenneth Clayman. Here in Washington, Jennifer Close (ph), Professor of Public Health Law Peter Cohen. And Pennellen Thigpen (ph) in the back, Raj Paladugu (ph) and Laura Spadanuta (ph).

Let's go right to you, Captain Clements. Captain, you were on the scene; investigated this. Tell us what the scene looked like when you arrived.

CAPT. BOB CLEMENTS, CALIF. HIGHWAY PATROL: That's correct. We received the 911 call. And our office responded, and arrived on the scene in approximately two-and-a-half minutes.

When they arrived, it was a total chaotic situation. There were numerous young bystanders, people trying to render aid. We had five victims that were lying in the roadway, massive damage to numerous cars.

Just to sort of summarize it, it looked like a situation where an aircraft had literally crashed in the middle of a residential street. It was one of the most horrific scenes that I've seen in my 23 years.

COSSACK: Captain, about what time did this happen? And what was -- were there a lot of people on the street? And tell us about this street.

CLEMENTS: You have to remember that UC Santa Barbara in close proximity to Isla Vista.

And this is a residential area for the college community. It's a one-square-mile area of residents. And it's probably the most densely populated area in the United States per square mile. There could be upwards of 40,000 people in this area, residing or milling around.

On any given weekend, there could be upwards of 2,000 or 3,000 people on the street.

COSSACK: Now, when you arrived and your men arrived, what was Mr. Attias doing?

CLEMENTS: When officers arrived, Mr. Attias was violently confronting the bystanders and some rescuers, physically attacking them; and seemed to be not cooperative with anybody that was on the scene.

COSSACK: Was he surrounded? Tell us what the crowd was doing.

CLEMENTS: The crowd was attempting to calm him down. And they were not the aggressors; Mr. Attias was the aggressor in this situation.

COSSACK: Was he surrounded by a group of people? Was he trying to get away? CLEMENTS: No. There was a group of people that were not surrounding him but just in close proximity. It appeared that he was going from one individual to another individual, physically and verbally attacking them.

COSSACK: Was he injured in any way in these crashes, Captain, that you know of?

CLEMENTS: He did -- he did sustain some minors injuries. It's unsure if it was related to the crash or related to the confrontation after the crash.

COSSACK: Now, Captain, one of the ways that -- I know that highway patrol will sometimes check as to see whether or not they smell alcohol on someone's breath, or they will do a check to pupils of someone's eyes to see if they are dilated.

Were there any tests done at the scene? And what would those tests indicate?

CLEMENTS: I can tell you that there's some information that we would not like to release at this time. But overall, the investigation followed the normal protocol. There was a blood sample obtained. It was not consensual. Under California law, we have the ability to do a forced blood withdrawal, and that was done, and that will be analyzed to determine if there was presence of alcohol and/or drugs.

COSSACK: Had you had any knowledge of this young man prior to this incident?

CLEMENTS: My agency has had no contact or knowledge that I can speak about.

COSSACK: And can you speak of any other agencies, whether or not they had had any contact with Mr. Attias?

CLEMENTS: All I can say is that our investigators are looking into his past, as well as the timeline immediately leading up to this incident. And a lot of that is of evidentiary value to help establish our case.

COSSACK: And tell me what you are doing to investigate this accident. How do you investigate this event? What's the normal procedure?

CLEMENTS: Well, this is a very serious incident. And it has a high priority and a high level of expertise that we called in.

We are using our multi-accident investigation team, which is a specialized unit that contains everything from reconstructionists to engineers. We processed the scene itself, and obtained a lot of evidentiary items that are significant, that will help us in establishing our case.

Thus far, we've interviewed over 46 witnesses. And they continue to come in. All of this is valuable information when it comes to establishing our case and working with the district attorney.

COSSACK: All right, thank you, Captain Bob Clements.

And now, let me just bring our viewers up to date. The arraignment for David Attias, which was scheduled for this morning, has been postponed, I've just been informed, until March 6th. So he will not be arraigned until March 6th of this year. Of course, CNN will bring you up to date, and keep you up to date on this case.

Let me go now to Jason Schock. Jason is a student at the University Of California, Santa Barbara.

Jason, you were on the scene almost immediately. Tell me what you saw.

SCHOCK: I showed up about 30 minutes after the event occurred to take photographs. I'm a newspaper photographer.

It wasn't something I was expecting to see two blocks from my house. And the whole time, there were students watching, you know, with their jaws dropped. Just tons of police, debris all over the road. Just a horrific scene, it really was.

COSSACK: Did you see -- did you see David Attias at all?

SCHOCK: I did not. No. He had already been taken away by then.

COSSACK: All right. Tell me the -- were the -- were the medical condition -- were the ambulances there? Were the students trying to assist? And tell me also a little bit about that street.

SCHOCK: The victims had already been taken away by the time I had gotten there. And there were only covered bodies when I showed up.

That street is -- definitely, I think every student in Isla Vista that is on the party scene, so to speak, has walked down that street. It's a pretty common -- you just walk down Salvadore Talle (ph) to get to the parties. And there's no sidewalks, which is what is really tragic, too, in this case.

COSSACK: So tell me, on a normal evening or a Saturday evening, would that street not look -- I mean, would you expect a car to be going down that street, or would it be just filled with pedestrians?

SCHOCK: Sure. Sure. You would see mostly pedestrians. But cars could drive down the street. But, you know, they're usually weaving between people walking down the street, you know, going maybe 15 miles per hour at the most.

COSSACK: And so the notion that somebody would come speeding down that street is totally unthinkable?

SCHOCK: It's incomprehensible. And to see the damage to the car, it was so severe that I don't think I've even seen damages like that on a freeway accident, you know, at 80 miles per hour. It was just -- it was incomprehensive.

COSSACK: All right, Jason, thanks for joining us.

Let's take a break. When we come back, David Attias faces murder charges. And looks like may have been under the influence of drugs. We'll find out about how these drugs can affect someone when we return. Stay with us.


A judicial inquiry has found that a federal judge did not violate ethics by sending three criminal cases against friends of Bill Clinton to judges appointed by the former president.

The Judicial Council concluded that Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Halloway Johnson acted properly and not out of political motivation.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (OFF-MIKE) never has a bad thing to say about him. He was just a great kid.


COSSACK: After David Attias allegedly careened into a crowd of pedestrians Friday night, witnesses claim they heard him yelling, quote, "I am the angel of death." In fact, four people did lose their lives in the crash.

Peter, let's talk a little bit about drugs and how they affect someone and whether or not they could cause the kind of activities that we've heard happened with David Attias. Now, I want to make it clear that, right now, you and I are talking, we are speculating and we are talking about hypotheticals, because we do not have any evidence that he was, in fact, taking drugs or was under the influence of alcohol.

But this is kind of, to say the least, unusual behavior. And so let's talk a little bit about methamphetamine, what it is and how it affects the brain.

DR. PETER COHEN, PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC HEALTH LAW: Yes, let me preface this by saying not only do I have a part-time appointment at the law school, I'm also a physician and an anesthesiologist.

To understand how amphetamines work, understand that the brain, the cells in the brain, the nerves in the brain sort of speak to each other by secreting chemicals. That's the way they transmit information. One of the chemicals that's normally secreted in everybody is adrenalin. We're all familiar with the affects of adrenalin, how it sort of peps you up and stimulates you. Amphetamine is like adrenalin, but the brain normally doesn't make it. It's injected or eaten from the outside, and it's a stimulant. And taken in low dose, it's really very much like a very stiff cup of coffee. You become better able to think -- at least you think so -- you can stay awake, and it's been used in the past for staying awake, for weight reduction.

But if you are either susceptible or you take a lot, it can make your brain go into an excited stage. Sometimes this results in a convulsion, sometimes it results in a psychosis where you imagine things, such as being the angel of death or such as doing other aberrant behaviors. The problem is you can evidence the same symptoms without using any drugs.

People who are -- and I'm not a psychiatrist, but people who are schizophrenic may hallucinate, may have bizarre meditation, may say and do funny things that are totally abnormal, as may people who are normal but take amphetamines. So that's going to be the problem with this case.

COSSACK: All right, now, what happens if you mix amphetamines to the degree that you've just described, doctor, to a point where it has an effect on your brain? And we know that each of us would react differently according to weight and how we are chemically. But you mix it with alcohol. Is there a combined effect? Is there something that becomes even more aberrant?

COHEN: In an individual case, that's hard to say. Alcohol is a depressant. And so people will say, well, how is it you can take a depressant drug and then become violent? because alcohol alone can make you violent.


COHEN: Well, one of the ways in which the normal brain is is it has excited functions and it has controlling functions. And alcohol depresses these controlling, civilizing functions and makes you more excited. So it is possible that alcohol and amphetamines might make it worse. It's also equally possible that alcohol plus the amphetamine might calm somebody down.

Certainly within the drug culture, people who use cocaine and amphetamines who don't like to be excited for too long will sometimes use alcohol, quote, "to bring them down to Earth," or use heroin to do the same thing.

COSSACK: Now, the captain told us earlier from the Highway Patrol that when his men got upon the scene, they saw David Attias, who was aggressive and excited and challenging the crowd and acting in that kind of manner. Is that the kind of thing that you would expect someone who is over-stimulated, if you will, with amphetamines to be acting like that?

COHEN: It certainly would be consistent with amphetamines, an overdose of amphetamines, or of cocaine. But it would also be consistent with an acute, paranoid break, an acute schizophrenic reaction without drugs. But to directly answer your question, yes, it would. In other words, it would be consistent with an amphetamine, but it doesn't necessary mean he had amphetamines. That's -- the blood test will tell.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

When we come back, what role will this drug use play in the prosecution and defense of the case? Stay with us.



Q: Why was a lawsuit filed in Atlanta Monday against Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis?

A: Lawyers filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the 1- year-old daughter of the man stabbed outside an Atlanta nightclub after the Super Bowl last year. Murder charges against Lewis were dropped during trial. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor.



COSSACK: Yesterday in Santa Barbara, California, a vigil was held for the victims of a deadly car crash over the weekend. Four pedestrians were killed at the scene. A fifth is in critical condition. An 18-year-old college student is accused of running down the victims with his car. David Attias faces charges of murder, vehicular homicide and driving while under the influence of drugs.

Al, in reality -- in a realistic sense, what is going to happen to this young man? ALLAN STOKKE, FMR. CALIF. STATE PROSECUTOR: There's going to be a serious investigation and examination by the district attorney to determine the person's intent. They need to determine his intent, whether or not he acted in a wanton and willful fashion. And if they can do so, I would assume they are going to pursue murder charges against him, which apparently have already been filed.

COSSACK: Well, when you talk about murder charges, is this a murder-one charge, is this -- we know it's vehicular homicide. How is that different than murder one?

STOKKE: Well, we don't know yet all of the facts. Murder one would take planning and premeditation. And we don't know -- we don't have enough facts yet to determine whether or not this was something that was planned or whether it occurred on the spur of the moment.

But that will be the determination after they finish a great deal of investigation. It sounds like they have already interviewed many, many witnesses to help determine that factor. COSSACK: Ken Clayman, what happens if, in terms of defending this young man, if suddenly he says to his lawyer: "You know, I had taken so much drugs that night and I had done some drinking, I have no idea what I did"?

Is that a defense?

KENNETH CLAYMAN, CALIFORNIA PUBLIC DEFENDER: Well, I think, Roger, it certainly is a defense that can be raised. And I think the obviously important part of this case is going to be, it would appear: What is he going to be convicted of? Because in California, if he's convicted of a murder charge -- even second-degree murder -- he could -- and there's a great likelihood he might -- spend life in prison.

If he's convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter, he would spend a lesser time, although an appreciable amount of time. So, certainly, his state of mind is going to be a great issue. And it's going to be explored. And, as Al said, it's going to be a question of going through all the records in the case and determining exactly what the prosecution has and trying to defend the client accordingly.

COSSACK: Al, what happens if it turns out that the defendant claims that, in fact, he took so many drugs he didn't know what he was doing, and therefore, he said: "You know, I didn't have the intent to do anything because I didn't know what I was doing"?

What does that do for him in terms of a defense?

STOKKE: Well, years ago, that might have been a fairly good defense. It's a more difficult one now. Many of the new rules and statutes make that much more difficult. But they do have to prove, either by implied or expressed fashion, what his intent was. And the intoxication -- if it turns there is intoxication -- is an important factor in that respect. If he cannot possibly understand what was happening -- either through intoxication or through a mental state -- then there could be a defense there. But it looks -- it's hard to tell at this point.

COSSACK: Ken, I want to go back to that question again. I mean, does that mean that a good defense lawyer will be able to get in front of a jury and allegedly have his client say: "You know, I had no idea what I was doing; I had taken so many drugs that I just couldn't -- whatever I did I didn't know what I was doing"?

Is that a defense that a jury would then come back and say: "Well, OK, we find him not guilty"?

CLAYMAN: Well, I think certainly, Roger, the defense attorney would be obligated to present that defense if the client tells the lawyer that, in fact, he was unconscious, that he has no memory. Certainly that is a fact to be presented to the jury. And I suppose it is conceivable that if the jury believed that and felt that no intent existed, certainly it would defeat the murder charges.

I think perhaps there's a less of a probability that that type of defense would be successful against the gross vehicular manslaughter charges, which require mere negligence. When I say mere: disregard the kind of elements that would cause a manslaughter charge. And it would be probably be a more difficult defense. But certainly all the salient facts should be presented to the jury on behalf of the client.


COSSACK: Let me interrupt a second. I guess what I'm really asking is this: Is it a defense in the state of California -- my home state -- to say: "I voluntarily got so loaded on so many drugs that I just went out there and did this horrible act, but don't hold me responsible because, you know, I got myself so drunk or so high on drugs that I just don't know -- I didn't know what I was doing"? Is that a defense in California?

STOKKE: Well, when -- I think that all of the defenses can be presented. And I think that if the jury were to conclude that he had absolutely no intent and no ability, there is a possibility that that could be a complete defense. But I think it would be very unlikely, Roger.

COSSACK: Can I just -- I want to interrupt you. I just want to tell our viewers that we have some pictures that were taken from the courtroom this morning for the initial presentation for David Attias. As we know, it has been continued until March 6. But these are not live pictures. These are taped pictures of David Attias inside the courtroom this morning for his very short appearance.

Now, Ken, go ahead and finish what you were saying.

STOKKE: I was saying that, basically, being under the influence is normally not a complete and total defense. And it would be very difficult in this case to have it result in an acquittal, were that to be shown, assuming that the jury believed that that was the occurrence.

But, as Al mentioned, we need to do a lot of work -- or any attorney would have to do a lot of work to see what the actual facts are. And, of course, we don't know what the defendant is saying.

COSSACK: All right.

I'm afraid that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests. Thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



Back to the top